Keeping tarantulas as pets can be a fascinating hobby. They are interesting to watch, take up relatively little space, and are fairly easy to maintain. However, tarantulas aren't the best choice if you want a pet you can handle, as they do have venomous bites.
There are around 1,000 species of tarantulas in the Theraphosidae family. One of the more popular species kept as a pet is the Chilean rose (Grammostola rosea), a hardy spider native to Chile that's generally easy to care for. As pets, tarantulas need housing that mimics their natural habitat, along with live prey.
Common Name: Tarantula
Scientific Name: Theraphosidae
Adult Size: 5 to 8 inches long on average
Lifespan: 5 to 20 years on average (females generally live longer than males)
Tarantula Behavior and Temperament
The best tarantulas for beginners are typically the ground dwellers, such as the curly hair tarantula. They tend to move more slowly, which makes any necessary handling easier. The pink toe tarantula is often cited as a good tree-dwelling tarantula to keep, but it's not a good first tarantula overall. In general, tree-dwelling species are more challenging to care for because they're quick and agile, making handling difficult.
In general, tarantulas are solitary animals. And handling is not recommended except when necessary, such as moving the spider out of its enclosure for cleaning. In that case, it's best to coax the spider into a small container for transport, rather than moving it in your hands.
Tarantulas are generally docile, which is why some people do allow their spiders to walk on their bodies. However, tarantulas will bite if they feel threatened, and their bites are venomous. Another concern with handling tarantulas is skin irritation from tiny barbed hairs on their abdomens. If they feel threatened, the spiders can release these hairs, which work their way into your skin and cause itching and irritation.
Plus, if the hairs get into your eyes, they can cause serious inflammation. So be careful not to rub your eyes while doing anything with the spider and its enclosure, and wash your hands well afterward. Moreover, do not allow children and other pets to come in contact with the tarantula.
While their defense mechanisms somewhat complicate their overall ease of care, tarantulas are still fairly straightforward to maintain. And they're a good choice for people who want a quiet animal that doesn't require much attention. Expect to spend a few hours each week on feedings and cleaning. Then, you simply can enjoy observing this unique animal. A tarantula is generally at its most active when it's hunting live prey. Otherwise, it typically will spend a lot of time in a seemingly restful state.
Tarantulas have toxic venom that typically causes a local reaction similar to a bee sting. However, some people who are allergic to the venom can have more serious reactions and should seek immediate medical care.
8 Tips for Keeping Tarantulas as Pets
Tarantulas have a leg span between 5 and 8 inches long on average. The females are often larger than the males.
Spiders are not social animals and generally should be housed one to a cage. They need a secure lid to their enclosure, as they can be escape artists, but the lid must also have ventilation.
For ground-dwelling tarantulas, the general rule of thumb is the length of enclosure should be approximately three times the spider's leg span, and the width of the enclosure should be roughly double its leg span. The height only needs to be approximately the same as the spider's leg span. A 5-gallon aquarium often works well. And a larger tank isn't necessarily better, as it can make prey more difficult to find.
For tree-dwelling species, also choose an enclosure that's three times the leg span long and two times the leg span wide. The height should be roughly a foot. Include branches on which the spider can climb and construct its web.
Your tarantula also needs a place to hide. A piece of cork bark, a half hollow log (often available from pet stores), or half a clay flowerpot on its side are all good options.
Tarantulas don't need bright lights and should be kept out of direct sunlight. They also generally don't need heat lamps, as most species do fine at room temperature. Some species require high humidity levels, which you can achieve by misting the enclosure daily.
Spot clean the enclosure as needed, and remove uneaten food after 24 hours. It's generally recommended to do a full cleaning of the enclosure, including a change of the bedding, every four to six months.
Specific Substrate Needs
Line the bottom of the enclosure with a layer of vermiculite, or vermiculite mixed with potting soil and/or peat, that's at least two to four inches deep to allow for burrowing.
What Do Tarantulas Eat & Drink?
Feed your tarantula a diet of crickets supplemented with other insects, including mealworms, super worms, and roaches. Large tarantulas can even be given pinkie mice and small lizards. The crickets should be gut loaded (fed nutritious foods) prior to feeding your tarantula and dusted with a vitamin powder. What goes into the cricket is what you're ultimately feeding your spider. In general, the size of the food should be smaller than the tarantula's body.
Adults can get feedings roughly once a week while juveniles can eat every day or two. Simply drop in the prey close to where your spider is in the enclosure. Feedings are best done in the evening when the spider is more active. Consult your veterinarian for the appropriate quantity and variety to feed your spider, as this can vary based on age, size, and species.
A small dish of fresh water should be provided at all times. It must be very shallow to prevent drowning. You can place some pebbles in the dish to give the spider something to climb out on as a precaution.
Common Health Problems
Tarantulas are generally hardy animals and don't have many health problems as long as they are kept secure in the proper environment. However, they still might face some issues.
Some tarantulas might acquire oral nematodes, a parasitic infection, though this is not very common for captive tarantulas. Symptoms include decreased appetite and white material around the spider's mouth.
Furthermore, molting is how the spider grows to a larger size, by shedding its old exoskeleton and producing a new one. This is a stressful time for a spider, and it will typically lose its appetite prior to a molt. Don't feed the spider during the molting process, which can take several days. Live prey can injure the spider while its new exoskeleton is hardening. In addition, the spider should never be handled during the molting process. It can take up to two weeks for the spider to fully recover after molting.
As with any animal, physical activity is important to keep tarantulas healthy and at a good weight. However, these spiders don't need very much exercise. As long as they have an enclosure that allows them sufficient space to move and climb, they should get the activity they require.
Molting is how tarantulas "groom" themselves, and they generally don't need any assistance from you. Just make sure their enclosure is at the proper humidity for their species, and keep live prey away from them until the molt is complete.
On a monthly basis, your main cost for a tarantula will be its diet. This can range from around $5 to $10, and you can even decrease that cost if you raise crickets yourself rather than purchasing them from a pet store. For periodic substrate changes, expect to spend between $10 and $20. And make sure to budget for an annual veterinary wellness checkup, as well as emergency vet care.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Tarantula as a Pet
Tarantulas are interesting and quiet pets that don't take up a lot of space. They also don't need a lot of maintenance. But if you want a cuddly and social pet, they wouldn't be the best choice. Plus, as they're not very active, they wouldn't be ideal for someone who likes a lot of excitement from a pet.
Similar Exotic Pets to the Tarantula
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Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.
Purchasing or Adopting Your Tarantula
Many pet stores sell tarantulas. But if you can, try to get one from a reputable breeder or rescue group. You'll have a better idea of the animal's health history, and you can be fairly certain you're not getting a spider that's pregnant or sick. Expect to pay between $25 and $75 on average, though this can vary widely depending on factors such as the species.
Local exotic veterinarians might be able to point you toward a good breeder or rescue group. The main benefit of going to a breeder is you'll likely have a wider selection of young animals.
When choosing a tarantula, avoid any that are hunched with their legs curled under them. The spider should appear alert and move quickly. Ask to see it eat if possible. Also, make sure the seller can tell you the age and gender of the spider. Finally, to avoid accidentally becoming a breeder yourself, keep your tarantulas housed individually.
Does a tarantula make a good pet for kids?
Tarantulas can be interesting pets for kids, as long as the spiders stay out of reach of children who don't understand their handling. Some children also might not be comfortable with feeding live prey.
Are tarantulas hard to take care of?
Tarantulas are generally low-maintenance pets, with their primary care needs being regular feedings and periodic enclosure cleanings.
Do tarantulas like to be held?
Some tarantulas can tolerate gentle handling. However, they will never be tame animals that enjoy cuddling.